Seeing in Turmoil – Summary of 2016

Seeing in Turmoil – Summary of 2016

We started 2016 with an “Un-resolution,” challenging ourselves to go beyond “static and sterile,” to “move toward the edge of the cliff” and to “destroy our present complacency of seeing.”

Looking back at this remarkable and tumultuous year, it was a year when we questioned everything about our “seeing.” Being well aware that the popularity of our blog could suffer, we went beyond our usual travel and landscape genre of photography. While shedding our photographic skin, not only did we explore street vistas but also tried to snake into new ways of seeing.

It would have been much easier to stick to one theme, one look, one message. Yes, it would. However, we knew that by standing still our seeing could become familiar and repetitive – eventually leading to blindness – a risk we couldn’t afford to take.

We travelled less in 2016 partially because our seeing involved fascinating visuals closer to home and partially because we’ve been working on several new projects. With the launch of our workshops in 2017 we will certainly correct this anomaly.

Despite the lack of travel, this year stood out in one remarkable way. We had the privilege of meeting and working with amazing people. It is impossible to name you all – please allow us a little indiscretion in mentioning a few names.

It must start with You – readers of this blog. You motivate, inspire and challenge us to publish only the best work. Your kind and generous comments make our days. Your critiques and suggestions are highly desirable and much appreciated. Thank you so much for being with us on this journey.

We would like to thank the remarkable Fujifilm Canada team for your support and professionalism and for allowing us to work with cameras and lenses we otherwise wouldn’t be able to access. Your dedication to photography and photographers is unparalleled. Your commercial success in disrupting the photography market with the X-series is well deserved.

We are aware that it is unfair but I have to mention one photographer. Patrick LaRoque of Montreal has continually produced imagery that has caused me to pause and stare, which is quite a feat in this attention-deficient, glance-only, next-one-please world of mass photo consumption. This is the type of imagery that is not going to find its way to the top of the 500px popularity contest. Patrick’s imagery evokes visual emotions that go well beyond the levelled “beautiful” and desirable “popular.” They transcend seeing. They are visual poetry and design that make you stop, stare, think and feel – and that’s what photography is all about.

Another person I would like to mention is Ian MacDonald. Despite his personal struggles, after years of working as a paramedic, he reaches out to the photographic community as no other person I know. I have enjoyed meeting him and discussing photography, Fuji and everything in between. His openness and positive attitude is something we need more of every day (what a great balance to yours truly’s quirky, sarcastic, out-of-balance persona).

Of course, there are many more great photographers whom we admire and whose work we enjoy. You know who you are.

We would like to thank Thomas of Scoop It all Fuji, Patrick of Fujirumors and Tomasz of Fujilove for providing amazing platforms on which Fuji shooters can share their imagery and ideas. We also have words of gratitude for Steve and his team at SteveHuffPhoto.com. The fact that Steve accommodates all brands and genres of photography on his platform should be applauded. Some people don’t realize how much work it takes to organize and run such websites, magazines and communities. We are well aware of your hard work. Thanks for doing it.

Every year so far we have picked the “camera of the year” or the “lens of the year.” Well, I am not sure if it is such a good idea any more. My choice is just what is the best for me and it may not be the best for you. While we have been waiting for a successor to our beloved X100-line, most of our photography has been done with the X-Pro2. For me personally, it is the best interchangeable X-series camera out there (please note I said “for me”).

Before we go, it is time to say a few words about next year. No, I am not going to lay down pompous plans. All I want to say for now is that 2017, January in particular, will be very busy. We will be launching our new educational platform (finally!!!) for those of you who would like to explore, travel, create and learn with us. However, that’s not the only surprise waiting early next year. Stay tuned.

But enough of this disorderly jotting! It is time for the most important part of our summary – here are our favourite images of the year.

Enjoy.

ON THE ROAD

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ON THE STREET

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…and one round of squares

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Finally, we would like to wish you a visually rich, healthy, restful and warm Holiday Season and a Happy New Year.

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2017 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

 

Did I mention 120,000 sips of coffee?

Did I mention 120,000 sips of coffee?

It has been ten years. That is 3652 days, 7304 sunrises and sunsets. It’s been millions of heartbeats and breaths, thousands of kisses, touches, smiles, hugs and hellos. I have been able to take hundreds of trips and thousands of images. Did I mention 120,000 sips of coffee?

It has been ten years of many tender moments with my wife, bonding time with my son, quiet walks with my dog. I have enjoyed countless moments of solitude. Did I mention 120,000 sips of coffee?

It has been ten years of refreshing drops of falling rain, the gentle touch of the wind and warming rays of the sun. And those mountains. Standing among those giants of the Earth – what a privilege! Did I mention 120,000 sips of coffee?  

It has been ten years of excuses, blame and regrets all discarded in the black hole of the universe. Dreams are no longer put on the dusty shelves of life and forgotten. Dreams are embodied in every day and are no longer ordinary and unfulfilled. Did I mention 120,000 sips of coffee?

It has been ten years since you gifted me blank pages when there were no more left, and you filled my pot of ink when it was dry. You handed me the means to dream, create, write and fill the pages of my life once more. Did I mention 120,000 sips of coffee?

Thank you Madeleine.

 

P.S. Ten years ago I received a life-saving kidney transplant from Madeleine. On that very day I started drinking coffee 🙂

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

 

 

Politics of Running (Not) That Successful Photography Blog

Politics of Running (Not) That Successful Photography Blog

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Amnesia, X-Pro2 & XF 35mm F1.4, ACROS film simulation.

It has been five years since Kasia and I started this endeavour, not that we are into wearing stupid hats and celebrating our pre-school math skills. It is more about thinking out loud and sharing our incoherent thoughts. It is not a secret that running a photography blog taught us valuable lessons about today’s state of photography and about our own photographic well- or not that well-being.

It all started because of few of my insane friends probably got confused and threw out the idea of me sharing my work and writings online. With my usual lack of thought, logic and sanity I agreed. Unfortunately, and to my great surprise, this decision of spending my valuable time on writing and sharing our imagery has been fully supported by my incredible and up-to-this-point logical wife, Kasia.

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Non-colour Autumn, X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4, ACROS.

The problem is that once we started we couldn’t stop. Since the early days the idea that actually writing about the art of seeing could be of interest in this gear-centric, Photoshop-loving and Disney-like-photo-admiring world was beyond us. I was wrong and for the first time in my life I am actually happy about that.

It turned out that many of you think like us – that photography is all about seeing, that it is worth paying attention to composition and light and your subject. It is perfectly fine to have doubts and go through periods of confusion and visual dizziness. It is normal to try new things, find new subjects and try new genres. In fact, it feels good to break your own mould and start anew from time to time.

And this is exactly where politics comes in. No, I am sorry, Trump supporters, I am not going to “go low.” Apologies also to Hillary supporters – I am not going to “go high” either. I just like standing firm on the ground with my camera. But seriously, sometimes I think that running a photography blog has a lot of to do with politics.

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The Reader, X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4, ACROS

Over the years you reach your “electorate.” And yes, for some reason many of you liked our imagery and writings – ghost towns, landscapes, travel, along with a few unspecified visuals from time to time. Then, we added street photography or as I call it “travels around the city.” Over the years our interests have evolved. Imagery that we shot a few years ago stopped satisfying us – blame it on our moody and ever-evolving visual taste.

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Peter, X-Pro2, XF 14mm F2.8, ACROS.

We realized that there is price to pay for these visual indiscretions. Some of you who followed us over the years have probably left. I know that some hard-core landscape, sunrise/sunset fans went somewhere else. There were some posts that even unnerved the street-photography crowd. And many of those who keep asking, “Why are my photos not as sharp?” and “How can I do that in Photoshop?” or even “Why are you shooting with Fuji if their files look horrible in LR?” probably flagged us persona non grata.

We get it and accept it. From the blog’s early days we knew that “popular,” would never be associated with this URL. It is not that we haven’t figured out how to get there. If we only published one more gear review, discussed sharpening the X-Trans files every few weeks or published those sunrise/sunset photos of Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies we would get more likes, shares and comments. All we have to do is to repeat this formula over and over again along with some occasional moments of uninspiring inspirational quotes. That would be lovely, wouldn’t it?

But lovely and beautiful doesn’t usually go along with creative, reimagined, risky, bold, personal and true. Therefore, we will keep evolving, changing, exploring and going into dark places and we are fully prepared to pay the price.

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Stairs, X-Pro & XF 35mm F1.4, ACROS.

What we do promise is that this blog will continue to evolve and present you with new, much bolder (read controversial) but honest (read no-filter) writing. Yes, you got it right! If there is one thing that holds back the art of seeing it is the lack of honest, genuine and image-centred dialogue about imagery shared on the Internet. There is some amazing work out there but there is also a lot of very poorly done imagery. I know I should stay positive but in my view there is nothing more positive that honest discussion. That’s how we all grow.

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Atrium Vista, X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4, ACROS

This space will be filled with new imagery unlike any you have ever seen before. Multiple projects that we are working on should (eventually) find their way here. We will also discuss failed seeing – the one we never share on this blog but the one that we learn from.

There is more. For those of you who would like to read, see, learn and be more engaged, you will have a chance to join our new educational and travel, subscription-based website where you will find much, much more than here. Also, for the first time we will be able to meet in person during our upcoming travel photography workshops. Together, we will visit the truly remarkable places in North America and create brilliant imagery. Stay tuned for more info.

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Lastly we would like to thank each of you for visiting these pages, for finding a few minutes to write to us, to comment on the posts and to provide us with feedback. We really appreciate it.

We would also like to thank our fellow photographers (many of them “X”), who are not afraid to venture to new places, take risks and exchange ideas with us. We learn a lot from you.

We value your time and visual wit; therefore, this blog will continue to remain ad-free. If there is one thing that will never change it’s our dedication to the art of seeing. Simplicity In Seeing, indeed.

The imagery in this post comes from numerous projects, all shot with the X-series cameras and lenses.

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Into The Night, Fujifilm X100S, Classic Chrome.

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The Room, Fujifilm X100S, Classic Chrome.

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From our “Park Near-By” series, X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4, Velvia.

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

 

The Sister I Didn’t Know I Had (Part 2)

The Sister I Didn’t Know I Had (Part 2)

Ten years ago I received a lifesaving kidney transplant from Madeleine. The gift of these ten healthy years meant I could travel, take photographs and share my writing with you. Without Madeleine and her generosity there would be no olafphotoblog.

During these years, I have spent a lot of time thinking why this woman found so much courage to save one man’s life. Where did her strength come from? What triggered this decision? Why was I so fortunate?

Kasia and I always knew we wanted to meet Madeleine’s family to get to know her history and visit her place of birth. This year, we did just that. 

Please make sure you read the first part of this series here.

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Madeleine took me to her classroom, now a museum. She sat down in her chair and put her hands on the desk. I just had to take this image. People’s hands tell so much.

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We visited a few more rooms, each one revealing more stories about the town of St. Pierre Jolys and its people.

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A rosary caught my attention. Who did it belong to? Was it prayed on?

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Then I ventured into one of the rooms and found dusty old Brownie camera, sitting on a top shelf.

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For some strange reason, I started to ponder about my road to seeing.

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The last ten years have been especially rewarding, as this gift of life allowed me to take a new path. Seeing has become my way of communication in this world. I found that doubt, struggle and vulnerability pave the way to creativity and self-discovery. How telling! Who knew that the old Kodak Brownie on a dusty shelf could spark such musing?!

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In fact, I have to give credit to Madeleine who has been pushing me toward the world of seeing. Both Kasia and Madeleine have been my motivators and judges.

Once we left the museum, we decided to visit the grave of Madeleine’s grandfather. It is one of a few places where the ashes of Madeleine’s father, Rene Mulaire, were scattered.

Cecile and Madeleine walked in silence.

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We all could feel the presence of Madeleine’s grandfather and father. What incredible men! Who knew that their grand/daughter would be standing here with a stranger whose life she had saved.

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The same day, Madeleine’s family organized a lovely dinner for Kasia and me. We could both feel the warmth and genuine kindness all around us.

The following day we started our drive home. Over the course of the long drive we thought about Madeleine and her family. The beauty of the Glacier National Park provided a great visual background for our contemplation.

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I realized once again that without Madeleine I wouldn’t be here to feel, connect and see. Strangely enough, the dramatic visuals only underlined this belief. I took out my camera and started seeing. It was my thank you and it always will be.

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If you have enjoyed this personal series, I have a favour to ask of you. There are thousands of people waiting for an organ transplant in North America. In the meantime, most people die each year taking their organs with them.

Could you please find a few minutes today to make the decision? Consider becoming an organ donor after your death. Please let others know your decision and register at BC’s Organ Donor Registry https://register.transplant.bc.ca. In the United States http://www.organdonor.gov.

You can find similar programs in your country.

Think about it. You can save as many as eight lives just by signing on. No effort is required. And if you’re lucky you can help your new friend take photos after your death (:

Still not convinced? Then watch this.

 

All images taken with the Fujifilm X100S, Fujifilm X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 50-140mm F2.8.

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The Sister I Didn’t Know I Had (Part 1)

The Sister I Didn’t Know I Had (Part 1)

Ten years ago I was yet again a dying man. Regular dialysis kept me alive but drained my body of precious energy so I paid almost weekly visits to the Emergency department. I felt tired, depressed and very sick.

This physical and emotional end-of-the-road exhaustion came exactly three years after my multi-month stay in an intensive care unit. That was when I was dying the first time.

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It all started one ordinary Sunday afternoon when I was playing soccer with my friends. During the game I suffered a small scratch on my leg – one that you would probably ignore. So did I!

However, within hours I started to feel unusually weak. That evening I knew something was horribly wrong. By the time I got to a hospital and got a diagnosis, deadly flesh-eating bacteria had already eaten a great chunk of my leg. Who knew it would be just the beginning?

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I spent the next six months in an intensive care unit fighting the impossible. With the help of every known piece of life-sustaining machinery I was kept alive. However, with the C-difficile, numerous bouts of pneumonia, blood poisoning, septic shock and another long list of medical hazards, the verdict was in. The doctors didn’t think I would make it.

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For some unknown reason and to the great surprise of the medical personnel, I survived it all. However, I couldn’t go back to a normal life. For the next three years I had to have dialysis to keep me alive.

After each session of dialysis my body grew weaker and weaker. Almost weekly visits to Emergency due to numerous complications drew on my stocks of physical and emotional energy.

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The only way out was a kidney transplant. Given the average waiting time for a kidney transplant and my deteriorating health I knew that the prospect of receiving a kidney in time was nil. The only option was to find a living donor. I was incredibly lucky, as most of my family members immediately volunteered to help. Unfortunately, my unique blood mix quickly reduced the number of candidates to zero.

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To my amazement a few people I barely knew tested their blood to see if they could help but without much success. That’s when I gave up but my wife, Kasia, did not. She kept fighting and spreading the news about my situation.

And then, after months of stress and despair, we met Madeleine. I remember our first meeting. After years of suffering, disappointment and setbacks I had little hope, but the first time I saw this Frenchwoman I felt there was something different about her. Her strong and peaceful persona spread a calming tonic in the air – a feeling I hadn’t experienced for a long time.

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After months of medical tests, I was born again on November 28th, 2006. Madeleine had saved my life and become my other sister.

This year we will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of our transplant. During these ten years I could travel, take photographs and share my writing with you. Without Madeleine and her gift there would be no olafphotoblog.

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In these years, I have spent a lot of time thinking and debating why a Frenchwoman found so much courage to save one man’s life. Where did her strength come from? What triggered this decision? Why was I so fortunate?

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Kasia and I always knew we wanted to meet Madeleine’s family to get to know her history and visit her place of birth. This year, we did just that. This photographic essay is all about Madeleine and her family. This is a story that must be told – over and over again. It is a story of real courage.

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When we told our friends that we were heading to Winnipeg, they quipped, “Why would you go there?” It’s super hot (or cold), it’s flat and there are mosquitoes everywhere. After just two days spent with Madeleine and her family, Kasia and I fell in love with this super hot, flat and mosquito-ridden land. Why? Because you cannot separate the land from its people. And what people they are!

Upon our arrival, Madeleine and Raymond (Madeleine’s husband) had an entire apartment ready for us. Here is what we found on the table.

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The next day we headed to St.Pierre Jolys where Madeleine was born and where she went to school.. Her school was run by nuns but is now a local museum and that was the first stop.

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Madeleine showed us a statue on which her father, Rene Mulaire, had worked for years. She gently put her hand on the figure. We all could feel the warm and calming presence of this great man.

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Madeleine and her mother Cecile leafed through some documents and old books. The page with an image of Rene and his employees in front of his pharmacy caught our attention.

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Another room in the museum was dedicated to a character created by Madeleine’s mother, named Bicolo. Cecile ran a page in a francophone newspaper dedicated to children all about the character Bicolo. Here is Cecile and the character she created.

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…to be continued.

 

All images taken with the Fujifilm X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4 and  XF 50-140mm F2.8.

 

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The Most Important Trip Ever – Prelude

The Most Important Trip Ever – Prelude

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Over the years we have done many road trips around North America. Some of these trips brought us amazing memories and great imagery, which we often shared on this platform.

While we enjoyed them, our latest road trip was the most important we have ever taken. Not only did we capture great imagery, visit spectacular locations and enjoy great weather but we got to know special people. In particular, it was a trip that let us discover the family history of a very special person, without whom I wouldn’t be here today.

We took many images, which will help us to tell this story like no other. It is a personal story but also one that goes beyond one person. It came to our realization that this event means much more than we thought, so it must be told, over and over again.

Now as we go through the imagery shot over the last ten days, memories and emotions are being awakened. We will try to channel our thoughts into words and the flow of essential words should find its way into this blog. Stay tuned.

For now, let these few images be a prelude to the account of the most personal and greatest road trip ever.

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All images taken with the Fuji X100S, the Fuji X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 50-140mm F2.8.

  

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.